Small pine beetle destroying large Ocean County Park

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In Ocean County's flagship park where over 1,000 trees have recently been cut down due to an infestation of the relentless and aggressive southern pine beetle. (WPVI)

Some of the trees in Lakewood, New Jersey have stood for over 100 years, planted by oil tycoon and conservationist John D. Rockefeller at what was once his country estate.

It's now Ocean County's flagship park where over 1,000 trees have recently been cut down due to an infestation of the relentless and aggressive southern pine beetle.

"If we don't get a handle on it, these little pine beetles will destroy the trees. They go from one to another," Ocean County Parks Superintendent Mary Jane Bavais said.

Rich Reenstra, the Ocean County forester, says the southern pine beetle is the size of a grain of rice. It bores into a tree's bark to feed and breed, injecting a fungus that looks like a dark line.

"That fungus actually girdles the tree and kills below the bark the tree's ability to transport water," Reenstra said.

The beetles basically starve the tree, killing its leaves and causing bare branches. The trees try to fight back pushing the invaders out in a sticky ball of sap, but it doesn't always work.

Ideally, crews should be taking down not just a diseased tree, but every tree within a hundred foot radius. But, at this point, the county is not going that far.

"It would destroy this forest if we had to take everything down," Bavais said.

So the county is carefully removing dead or dying trees and some healthy ones, too, creating a buffer around the infestation.

"We are nervous. We don't know where this is going to end up, but we're doing the best we can with what we have," Reenstra said.

That includes experimenting with some targeted spraying. But park officials are worried that this nuisance southern pine beetle will claim more of the majestic trees that have graced Ocean County park for more than a century.
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